May 22, 2022

MATT BARLOW: Lukaku’s Chelsea return hasn’t worked out on any level but he’s ready to do the talking

Romelu Lukaku let it be known on the eve of the FA Cup final that he wanted to do his own talking.

It was a rebuke for his agent, Federico Pastorello, who had given an interview in the Italian media, in which he said there was ‘clearly a problem’ and that there would be talks with Chelsea‘s new owners at the end of the season amid interest from both teams in Milan.

Lukaku took to social media to put the record straight. 

It was a day to forget for Lukaku who struggled in Chelsea’s FA Cup final defeat by Liverpool

‘Never ever will I let someone speak for me,’ he said. And ‘it’s not in my name’. 

His manager might have preferred him to be relaxed and with his mind on something more pertinent, but this is the modern reality.

The trouble is the last time he spoke for himself the fall-out was even worse. 

He told Sky Italia that Thomas Tuchel’s tactics didn’t really suit him and he was missing Inter Milan, where he played with a strike-partner and proved unstoppable last season as he won the Serie A title.

Lukaku (left) hit back at his own agent Federico Pastorello (right) on the eve of the FA Cup final

Lukaku (left) hit back at his own agent Federico Pastorello (right) on the eve of the FA Cup final

Lukaku (left) hit back at his own agent Federico Pastorello (right) on the eve of the FA Cup final

The Chelsea forward took to Instagram to release a statement addressing the plans

The Chelsea forward took to Instagram to release a statement addressing the plans

The Chelsea forward took to Instagram to release a statement addressing the plans

Tuchel dropped him and their relationship has never seemed the same since.

More of an issue is that his football is not doing the talking either. His football, in fact, has been silent for large parts of the season. 

The striker was supposed to be the missing link, the difference when the games were tight or when the trophies are decided.

That’s why they invested £97.5million to bring him back to Stamford Bridge. It has not worked out on any level, and this last-gasp chance to salvage something positive from the wreckage slipped has away too.

The Belgian has only scored 15 goals in 42 appearances this campaign in all competitions

The Belgian has only scored 15 goals in 42 appearances this campaign in all competitions

The Belgian has only scored 15 goals in 42 appearances this campaign in all competitions

Lukaku was muted again at Wembley. He toiled away for 85 minutes causing very little concern to Liverpool’s centre-halves Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate until Tuchel put him out of his misery and sent on Hakim Ziyech.

He retired to the bench with the consolation of a slap on the back from the boss, before he settling down to watch extra-time and then link arms with the rest of the cheerleading team as Chelsea suffered another defeat on penalties.

In the absence of Kai Havertz, who had been ruled out with by a hamstring niggle, Tuchel turned to Ruben Loftus-Cheek as a makeshift centre-forward when he wanted to replace Christian Pulisic, early in the first period of extra-time.

Ross Barkley ended the game up front when Loftus-Cheek was substituted before the shootout.

It was heartbreak for Chelsea and Tuchel who lost their second cup final of 2022 on penalties

It was heartbreak for Chelsea and Tuchel who lost their second cup final of 2022 on penalties

It was heartbreak for Chelsea and Tuchel who lost their second cup final of 2022 on penalties

Lukaku came into the FA Cup final on the back of three goals in two games. These were his first in the Premier League this year and yet no Chelsea player has scored more in total, across all competitions this season.

Still this was not enough to repair the confidence damaged by his problems and his failure to convince Tuchel he is the man to lead the line. 

Gone is the surety of touch on display at the start of the campaign. Gone too, the speed off the mark, he is lacking the sharpness of regular football, the instinct of regular goals.

A quarter of an hour in and Tuchel was yelling and gesturing at him in exasperation. 

Tuchel turned to Ziyech shortly before extra-time after Lukaku struggled to make an impact

Tuchel turned to Ziyech shortly before extra-time after Lukaku struggled to make an impact

Tuchel turned to Ziyech shortly before extra-time after Lukaku struggled to make an impact

Chelsea were under the cosh and the £97.5million could not make anything stick. His team needed him to hold it up and carry them up the pitch.

Lukaku sent his thoughts back. At times, he seemed to be so preoccupied with engaging in a physical contest with Konate or Van Dijk that he forget about the ball. 

One promising move bounced into his arm and loose to Pulisic who must have been relieved to see referee Craig Pawson award a free-kick to Liverpool as he missed the target at the back post.

By half time, Chelsea had stabilised, the contest was even. Lukaku improved, and lashed a decent chance wide before interval. It was not easy, but it was on his stronger left side and, at his best he would have worked the goalkeeper.

Chelsea's Mount missed his all-important spot-kick before Tsimikas won the cup for Liverpool

Chelsea's Mount missed his all-important spot-kick before Tsimikas won the cup for Liverpool

Chelsea’s Mount missed his all-important spot-kick before Tsimikas won the cup for Liverpool

Early in the second half, Lukaku linked it up nicely for Pulisic who, again, should have done better. This time, Alisson made the save. The American was wasteful in front of goal. The only consolation for Chelsea was that Liverpool were no more clinical.

This was the best spell of the game for the Blues and Tuchel was whipping up the fans on the touchline but Liverpool responded before both sides faded and staggered into their second Wembley shootout of the season.

Goalless again, defenders on top again. Penalties again, Liverpool’s trophy again. 

Chelsea still lacking the goal ace to fire them closer to Liverpool and Manchester City. Perhaps his agent was close to the truth. 

There will be talks. There is clearly a problem to solve.

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